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Toward Equity: Why Organizations Struggle with Recruiting, Promoting and Retaining Racially Diverse Talent

Toward Equity: Why Organizations Struggle with Recruiting, Promoting and Retaining Racially Diverse Talent

MAY 2022

By Monica Almond, Ph.D.

Imagine this scenario. Your boss asks you to attend a political fundraiser on his behalf and to look for the new vice president of government relations for a well-known trade association. The new VP has not been on your radar; all you know is that you are looking for Gerry. At the fundraiser, a mutual friend walks you over to meet Gerry. Standing in front of you are two people — one a white man who appears to be in his 40s, the other a Black woman who appears much younger. Upon being introduced to the new VP, you reach over to shake the hand of the white man when the Black woman leans over and says, “It’s nice to meet you; I’m Gerry.”

The vice president of government relations is a Black woman. Embarrassed, you quickly collect yourself and acknowledge Gerry.

Two things are at play here: One, you likely assumed Gerry was a man because of the male-sounding name. Two, your subconscious led you to believe it was the older white man leading the government relations department, not the younger-looking Black woman.

Pay attention to your blindspots

We call these blindspots. Blindspots cause our brains to infer something untrue based on cultural stereotypes. In Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, authors Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald explain that blindspots are hidden biases that influence our behavior, but we remain oblivious to their influence. Blindspots often prevent us from successfully recruiting, promoting and retaining racially diverse talent, and it’s happening across companies and organizations and departments, including government affairs.

Well-validated research reveals that more than 40% of white and Asian Americans consider themselves to be egalitarian and yet have an automatic preference toward white people, which is responsible for a significant portion of the disadvantages that Black people experience, including succeeding in the workforce.

Here’s what the research tells us:

  • Companies successfully hire Black employees into entry-level positions, but struggle with maintaining Black representation at management levels, according to the 2021 McKinsey report Race in the Workplace.
  • The State of Black Women in Corporate America report from Lean In tells us that 49% of Black women feel their race or ethnicity will make it harder for them to get a raise, promotion or chance to get ahead, compared with just 3% of white women and 11% of women overall.
  • A trust deficit between Black employees and their companies reflects Black employee perceptions of their workplaces as less fair, accepting and authentic.

This trust deficit exists because many of us don’t know any better. As humans we prefer people who are like us, and we have the tendency to be more helpful and positive toward members of our own group over members of an outgroup. This is called in-group bias.

Mitigating bias

If we want to meaningfully meet our organizational culture and diversity challenges, we must do what we can to mitigate bias. This takes time and intention. There are several strategies organizations can implement immediately to mitigate bias and create the infrastructure where racially diverse talent can thrive:

First, conduct regular trainings and conversations on in-group bias and unconscious bias — particularly for your senior leaders and managers.

Second, evaluate the effects of bias on organizational habits and decision-making. Start by looking at how bias is directly affecting your organizational culture.

Third, evaluate your recruitment and retention efforts to avoid the effects of in-group bias on the employee life cycle. This includes examining both how candidates learn of job vacancies and who eventually gets offered a job, and scrutinizing promotion and salary decisions.

Finally, study the effects of bias on Black employees and other underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. You can start by reading the resources provided in this article.


About our guest author
Dr. Monica Almond, CEO of The Almond Group, is a government affairs professional who has spent most of her career advancing policy on behalf of historically underserved communities. She advises professionals who influence state and federal policy on leadership development and diversity, equity and inclusion to strengthen organizational culture and policymaking.  Dr. Almond holds an executive certificate in strategic diversity and inclusion management from Georgetown University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Howard University and a doctorate in education policy, evaluation and reform from Claremont Graduate University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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